In this series, we take a look at some of the most interesting young talents playing in Ligue 1. This time, we talk about two strikers: Olympique Lyonnais’ Rayan Cherki and Lille’s Victor Osimhen.

Rayan Cherki, Olympique Lyonnais – Morocco U21, 2003
by Daniele Manusia

Last January, during the cup match between Nantes and OL, Rayan Cherki scored two goals in 8 minutes, also providing two assists in a 4-3 victory for his team. Cherki was – and still is – only 16-years-old.

Olympique Lyonnais’ president Aulas said that “he has a better technique than Mbappé” and that if he would stay at OL for a couple of seasons more, he would become a better footballer than him. Cherki’s manager Rudi Garcia said that “he shouldn’t listen to what they say about him being the best and strongest”. The day after that game, French journalist Gael Berger defined him as “the greatest talent ever nurtured by the club”. This coming from a club that has boasted academy talents such as Benzema, Ben Arfa, and Fekir.

Cherki played a dozen league and cup matches (plus one 15-minute appearance in the Champions League), but his talent is so pure that – even if the noise around him is often too much – it’s impossible not to imagine him with a bright future. Cherki is one of those players that make you say “wow” the first time you see him play. He’s one that makes the defenders that play against him say “wow” as well.

To talk about him in such an early stage of his career, it could be helpful to look for those players that, in the past, took advantage of skills like his to have great careers. For example, the use of the body to protect the ball recalls some great players like Tevez or Eden Hazard, who are capable of keeping much bigger opponents than them away (Cherki is 1.75m tall).

His ball control is more typical of tricksters with North-African heritage – he was born in France and played with the U16 national team – like Mahrez, Fekir or Ziyech. The way in which Cherki controls the ball with the sole of his foot, the balance with which he changes direction or turns, the strength in his legs with which he speeds up and stops, are all things that make his dribbles unpredictable and deadly.

In the U19’s he’s too good for his opponents, but in Ligue 1 he still has to fill the athletic gap. For now, he still relies too much on his technical skills to get out of pressure, sometimes playing with opponents with an athletic level too high for him.

He’s almost entirely two-footed (he can carry the ball and dribble with the left foot, but he takes penalties with his right), he looks like one of those players who love to influence the match tempo by touching the ball many times, slowing the ball with the sole and then accelerating at once. That’s why it will be interesting to watch him play more frequently in central areas of the pitch, with smarter and more continuous movements, especially when un-marking himself.

Since last October, Cherki played a decent amount of minutes and it’s hard not to have big expectations for him. But we must remember that time flies for him and for us and that – as Rudi Garcia said – “he’s still a kid”.

 

Victor Osimhen, Lille – Nigeria, 1998
by Emanuele Atturo

Victor Osimhen’s nickname in Lille is ‘Humble Victor’ and one should ask themselves why, as he doesn’t seem to be ‘humble’ in anything he does. Not in his game, where he is very ambitious and devoted to scoring goals, nor in his personal projects, as he has already said he wants to play for Real Madrid – “with God’s will”.

The 2015 U-17 World Cup was the stage in which Victor Osimhen presented himself to the world. Nigeria won the World Cup, with a squad full of talents like Chukuweze, Nwakali, Okwonkwo and Osimhen, who was also the top goalscorer of the tournament. Less technical than some of his teammates – like the tournament’s MVP Nwakali, then signed by Arsenal – but with a stunning impact on games. This is well represented by the 10 goals scored in only 7 games, a record for the competition.

After that tournament, Osimehn was signed by Wolfsburg and he apparently unlearned how to score goals. His first season was so bad that he wasn’t called for the 2018 World Cup. The Germans loaned him to Charleroi, where he scored his first European goals: 17 in 34 games. An impressive number, that convinced Lille to invest in him by spending €12M. In a league perhaps more suited to his skills, Osimhen was one of the most pleasing surprises of the Ligue 1 season. He still has to turn 22 and he scored 13 goals in 25 games, following only Ben Yedder, Mbappé and Dembelé in the top goalscorer’s charts.

Most of all, since the start of the season he has been scoring with great regularity, with only a few goalless games in October. If we add the goals scored in the Champions League and French cup, Osimhen reached 18 goals for the season, making him the most prolific African player in Europe at this moment.

Osimhen played at a high level even in the first part of the season, when Lille was still a work in progress, still integrating all the signings of the summer transfer market and dealing with a very young team. The Nigerian striker is in the best possible tactical context for his skills: Lille is a vertical team that sometimes seems to play recklessly, full of footballers that play to un-mark behind the opponent lines.

Osimhen’s idol is Didier Drogba, who he obviously tries to emulate: “I saw most of his plays on video and I try to do everything to emulate him, but I know I still have to work and improve.” Actually, if you expect to see the next Drogba, you may be disappointed. Osimhen is 1.85m tall but he has a spindly physique, with a high barycentre that makes him look a little bit clunky. If you like those kinds of strikers, that somehow always find a way to be efficient, Osimhen is the player for you. He hasn’t got Drogba’s power or shooting technique.

Osimhen moves perfectly in deep areas and when he runs in open spaces is very hard to stop. He’s fast, powerful and perfectly controls the ball when he has to change direction, turn or dribble at defenders to run towards the goal. He always moves on the offside line with great timing, one of the hardest skills to learn for a young striker. He’s very good at taking the position with his back to the goal, but his first touch is still too rough and he needs to be more responsive in the little movements that he does to distance himself from the defenders. That’s why he likes to play with another striker like Loic Remy, that works for him in a deeper position, allowing him to focus more on the offensive movements.

Still, Osimhen also played well as a solo striker and showed a great room for improvement in his most obvious flaws. As his old Charleroi manager, Felice Mazzù, said: “He’s a complete striker, quick and with great power.” He already proved to have great composure in front of the goal, featuring a certain range of solutions to finalize, also scoring two goals with sublime chips.

The level of a striker in modern football is measured by his completeness and versatility. By his ability to do as many things as he can. So, Osimhen will have to improve his familiarity with some aspects of the game that he still handles improperly. But as Mazzù said: “He’s a very receptive player, he listens to everything he’s told.”

 

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